Derry / Northern Ireland

Portstewart – sun, sand and sweet treats on the Causeway Coast

Last month I headed up north for a little adventure along the stunning Causeway Coast with some friends. We spent three days taking in many of its delights from Derry right around to the spectacular Gobbins cliff walk at Islandmagee. Rather than having to pack up and move on each day we stayed in the beautiful town of Portstewart for the duration. You’ll find plenty of things to do in Portstewart and it’s also a great base for exploring the magnificent Causeway Coastal Route.

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Once just a small fishing village, Portstewart became a popular Victorian seaside resort. It remains a top holiday destination today and when we arrived on a gorgeous summer evening, the promenade was heaving! We crawled along behind the other traffic, watching the people chatting, strolling along with their ice creams or just taking time out to pause and watch the sunset.

Sunset from our waterfront accommodation in Portstewart

Sunset on our first night in Portstewart

I had booked the trip oblivious to the fact that The Open was taking place in nearby Portrush the same week. That no doubt added to the visitor numbers and the cars were chocca all along the promenade. Our accommodation was on the waterfront and I didn’t fancy our chances of getting a parking space anywhere near it! Suprisingly, we managed to get a spot without any problem just one street back from the promenade.

Where we stayed in Portstewart

We stayed in a beautifully renovated self-catered apartment. The open plan kitchen, dining and living area had fabulous views out over the promenade. It had everything we needed to cook, clean and chill, including heaps of books and board games. Not that we needed them on this occasion but always handy!

I was also lucky enough to snag the master bedroom (rock, paper, scissors champion right here!) which shared the same great views out to the Atlantic.  The bed was so comfy, I swear I could have just spent all three days wrapped up in it. However, I also got quite fond of relaxing by the window in the living room too. Watching the sun go down with a glass of wine in hand is a pastime I could get used to! Not sure how we actually managed to drag ourselves outside to explore at all really.

Portstewart Cliff Path

We did manage it though and on our first morning, the sun was beaming down again. We decided to walk the popular cliff path. Starting from the small harbour at one end of the promenade, the walk winds its way along the coastline, finishing at Portstewart Strand.

You’ll pass the imposing Dominican College, which overlooks the town from it’s clifftop position. Originally known as Rock Castle or O’Hara’s Castle, it was built in 1834 as a home for the O’Hara family. In 1917 it was purchased and extended by the Dominican Order and it is now a grammar school.

For the most part the walk is an easy flat one, though there are some steps in parts. It took roughly twenty minutes from the promenade to reach Portstewart Strand. We passed little bays and lovely waterfront apartments on the way. It really reminded me of walks I’d been on along Auckland’s north shore when I lived in New Zealand.

Portstewart Strand

As we stood looking out at the two miles of golden sand stretched ahead, it was easy to see why so many people are drawn to the area. Portstewart Strand is a stunning beach and a favourite for surfers. It’s great for families too, as you can drive directly onto the beach and unload the kids, the picnic and all the necessary gear easily!

Portstewart Strand is an area of Special Scientific Interest and is owned and managed by the National Trust. During peak times there is a charge for parking (£6.50 at time of writing) but there’s no charge for National Trust members.

View towards Mussenden Temple and beyond to Donegal from Portstewart Strand.

Spot the tiny Mussenden Temple ahead in the distance!

You could spend all day walking and exploring the beach, which has some of Ireland’s tallest sand dunes. There are marked trails through the dunes, which are around 6,000 years old and a haven for butterflies and wildflowers. The nearby Barmouth at the western end of the strand is a nature and wildlife reserve. The place to be if you want to do some birdwatching.

We walked about half way along the beach, the Mussenden Temple at Downhill visible on the cliff edge ahead. It’s still a long way off though and can’t be reached by foot from here as the beaches are separated by the Bann Estuary.

Harry’s Shack

If you haven’t packed your picnic for the beach, don’t worry. You can grab a bite to eat or a drink at Harry’s Shack which is located right on the beach. Grab a seat on the deck and a drink from the outdoor bar or cozy up inside by the stove on cooler days.

Interior shot of Harry's Shack on Portstewart Strand with views over the beach

Harry’s has a very laid back feel and I’ve heard lots of good things about the food. We didn’t eat there as it wasn’t long after breakfast and I don’t think they were even serving food just yet. However, going by the reviews it’s one of the top spots to eat out in Portstewart, particularly if you’re a seafood lover.

Morelli’s Italian Ice Cream

What I couldn’t resist trying though, was the legendary Morelli’s ice cream. Their Portstewart store was just a few doors away from our accommodation, so it would have been rude not to indulge! The only problem was picking a flavour from the icecream and sorbets on offer. They’ve also recently added some dairy free, vegan friendly options too.

There’s a small take-away store if you want to grab and ice-cream and go. I opted to sit in at the cafe next door with its retro pastel decor. Here they also serve sandwiches and hot meals if you’re needing more than just a sweet treat.

My ice cream in an old fashioned sundae glass at Morelli's Portstewart store.

The facade of Morelli's of Portstewart at night

Causeway Coast Way

If you’re looking for a good excuse to visit Morelli’s again, you could build up your step count on the Causeway Coast Way. Portstewart Strand is the starting point for this epic 33 mile walk. The route takes you from Portstewart to Portrush, Dunluce Castle, the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge before finally finishing up in Ballycastle. This time we relied on the car to get us around but this sounds like an amazing way to make the most of the fabulous scenery in this part of the country. I think I might just be adding the Causeway Coast Way to my list for a future trip!

View from Dunluce Castle

Golf, Golf and more Golf

Golf is not my thing as you probably guessed from the fact I had no idea The Open was on! If it’s your thing though, you won’t be short on options here. Portstewart Golf Club has not one, not two but three 18 hole courses. If that not enough, the courses at Royal Portrush Gold Club are just a 15 minute drive away. You couldn’t be more spoilt for choice!

Exploring further afield

When you’ve had your fill of swimming, surfing, walking, birdwatching, eating, drinking and golfing, Portstewart is a great base for exploring the Causeway Coast. To the east, within only 40 minutes of driving you can get to Dunluce Castle, Bushmill’s Distillery, the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. To the west, the fascinating walled city of Derry is less than an hour drive away. If you’re planning a visit, check out our blog post with heaps of things to do in Derry.

Derry city walls with the Guildhall in the background

Another option is to cruise along the Causeway Coast and see the sights from a different perspective. Try Aquaholics as they offer a number of different options from Portstewart, including a boat trip which stops off at Rathlin Island.

As you can see, you won’t be short on things to do in and around Portstewart.

Have fun and keep exploring!

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